Election season is upon us again. Our TVs and online activity are crowded with campaign, issue, and attack ads. It can be simple to dismiss it as too overwhelming or to turn a blind eye. But it is far more important that we reflect on the state of the world and do our civic duty by voting. Moreover, it can be just as simple.
Keith Lanser, Manager of Service Learning & Civic Engagement, takes it upon himself every year to help promote student voting here at the Mount. He spearheaded many of the political engagement advocacy programs we have: voter registration now being embedded in the check-in process at orientation, Lanser coming to classes to talk about Service Learning and registration (he visited about 60 this year), the “Vote or Treat” program being held to increase voter education, and much more. He has also arranged to transport students to a debate between United States House of Representative candidates Aftab Pureval and Steve Chabot, and will be helping host a viewing party on election night.
“My grandfather was shot and stabbed in the Battle of the Bulge for me, for us. It is our duty to vote,” says Lanser. “It is literally the least we can do for our country. I want students to realize that they have a voice.”
Lanser says he has seen an increase in voting registration and general interest here. The Mount has been nationally recognized for its engagement efforts, including being designated a voter friendly campus by NASPA (an association for student affairs professionals) because of our high voting rates, one of the highest among masters institutions in the nation.
But there remains a long way to go. In 2014 the Mount’s voting rate, while higher than the average for other masters institutions, was only 25.6%. There are also notable disparities among students themselves. According to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, at the Mount in 2016, students over 21 voted at a rate over 25% higher than 18-21 year olds, graduate students at an 18% higher rate than undergraduates, upperclassmen 12% higher than underclassmen, and female students 12% higher than men. The top two programs with the highest voting rates were Education and English, and the bottom two were Communication and Fitness Studies (categories used by the national study).
Why the age gap? Lanser offers a few factors that contribute. Only 50% of high schools today require civic education. Students often know very little about the way in which our government actually operates. In the past, there was also more participation in the military, in formal civic organizations, etc. Without that involvement, young people feel less of an obligation to vote on the issues. It is not uncommon today to hear the phrase “my vote doesn’t count.”
In reality, as Lanser points out, democracy simply doesn’t work without its citizens’ involvement. Furthermore, elections sometimes come down to only a few votes. When Bernie Sanders was elected mayor, it came down to 10 votes; in 2017, the state legislature vote in Virginia came down to one. Yet, data suggests that today 25% of young people today would prefer the military run our government. That system is also referred to as a military dictatorship.
So what can we do? Lanser offers some simple yet critical solutions for the concerned student or general citizen. We can talk to the people in our circles to make sure they are registered to vote and participating. We can get involved in the community, and reach out to the representatives who, after all, work for us. We can also make sure to vote in every single election, as they will all influence our lives in some way. Your congressional representative will affect your health care, state representatives vote on Medicaid expansion, i.e. the Affordable Care Act for Ohio (if Governor Kasich hadn’t signed that law almost a million people wouldn’t have health insurance), city council decides whether or not roads are repaired and how often trash gets collected, the board of education can control how your local schools are run, and so on. In Ohio, we also get to vote on our Ohio Supreme Court justices, which almost no state allows.
I asked Lanser what he would tell the student who claims “my vote doesn’t count.”
“To that student, I say that your democracy depends on you participating in it. Do you really want to live in a country like Russia, where votes don’t matter? Or Egypt, which is run by the military? My guess is no. If you care about your healthcare, your tuition, your ability to speak freely in public, you need to vote.”
And there are easy ways to do it, and do it right. You can fill out an absentee ballot if you are unable to make it to the polls on Election Day. You can become educated about the issues and candidates today in minutes via the internet. The Hamilton County website, for example, offers sample ballots online, which you can print off and take with you to copy down when you vote. As a Mount student, if you go to the Career Center, you can pick up a free League of Women Nonpartisan Voters Guide to help you understand everything on your ballot this election season.
So this November, make it your mission to help promote voting, even if all that means is voting yourself. Though it may seem trivial, shading in those boxes is not just easy but crucial for our democracy. Fill out your ballot. It is the least we can do for our country, and for ourselves.